What does an Israeli military investigation of the killing of a Palestinian look like? An utter waste of time.
By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz
On Friday, January 16, 2009, stormy demonstrations took place throughout the West Bank, as Operation Cast Lead was in full force in Gaza. The Israeli media did not report the many civilian casualties caused by IDF fire in the Gaza Strip. The Arab media, however, reported on it extensively.
Yesh Din wrote about a failed investigation by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID) about a shooting that day in Bil’in here. That same day at a demonstration in Hebron, someone in an Israeli uniform – probably an IDF sharpshooter – fired one bullet at Musab Badwan Ashak Dan’a, 17, and killed him. We’ll never know who the shooter was. Whether the shooting was justified will remain unanswered; and the reason for that, as usual, is the the MPCID’s scandalously incompetent investigation.
In order to view the depth of the MPCID’s negligence, let’s look at the events in chronological order, as seen from the files of our attorney, Attorney Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, with the brisk aid of Attorney Assnat Bartor.
March 3, 2009 – Yesh Din calls MPCID-Jerusalem in order to present them with a statement about the case; we are told to submit the statement (the equivalent of a police complaint) to MPCID-Be’er Sheva, which we do on the same day.
May 18, 2009 – The father of the deceased, Nasser Badwan Dan’a, gives a statement to Hebron DCO. He complains that the authorities needed a long time to reach him. He describes his son’s death as murder, and provided the investigator with the following items:
a) A medical report from the Ahali Hospital in Hebron describing the cause of death (one bullet to the head).
b) A death certificate.
c) Eight still photos of the deceased during the demonstration after he was shot, as well as in the hospital.
d) A still photo showing two Border Police officers pointing their weapons at the demonstration.
October 25, 2009 – More than five months after Nasser Badwan Dan’a’s testimony – and more than nine months since the incident – the MPCID holds its first investigation (aside from taking Dan’a’s testimony). It interrogates one of the Border Police company commanders under warning. The officer says he made certain none of his troops used live fire, that he does not recognize the officers in the photo provided by Dan’a, that the photo may have been taken at any demonstration in Hebron and that he heard live fire from the area in which IDF forces (rather than the Border Police) were active.
November 24, 2009 – One month later, and more than 10 months since the Musab’s death. The MPCID investigates. It interrogates a second Border Police company commander under caution. The officer recognizes the two cops in the picture and confirms they were his men; he says that by the color of their magazines, they seem to be using rubber bullets – adding that he heard live fire from the direction of the IDF soldiers rather than from his own company.
It should be noted that the two Border Police officers emphasized that the use of live fire by the IDF is the result of the army lacking the proficiency needed to use non-lethal weapons. The second officer took pride in the fact that Border Police cops never fired live fire during a demonstration in Hebron.
February 18, 2010 – Three months after their last investigation and more than a year since the killing of Dan’a, MPCID investigators leaf through the operational logs of the Yehuda Regional Brigade. They find initial reports of the killing – but the logs do not show which specific unit was involved.
February 22, 2010 – Four days later (and 13 months after the killing), the MPCID manages to pin down the IDF battalion involved: the 96th Battalion (although the Border Police officers were under the impression it was the 94th Battalion). Hallelujah! The MPCID, enthusiastic about this breakthrough, decides to strike while the iron is frozen and takes a methodical eight-month break.
October 10. 2010 – The MPCID leafs through the Yehuda Regional Brigade’s morning reports, where it finds a report by a journalist claiming that a Palestinian was killed by live fire.
November 18, 2010 – Some six weeks later, and more than 22 months since the killing, the MPCID interrogates a company commander from the 96th Battalion under caution. He says his troops certainly didn’t use live fire, since there was no reason for it. Furthermore, he claims to not have even heard live fire – unlike the Border Police officers who testified. At this point the MPCID takes a beauty sleep for another two months.
January 16, 2011 – Two years to the day since the killing of Dan’a, the MPCID investigators leisurely leaf through the morning reports of the 96th Battalion. They find nothing new and decide to make a phone call to Barak, the radioman of the company commander interrogated at the end of November 2010. Barak agrees to come and give his testimony two days later.
January 18, 2011 – He doesn’t show up. The MPCID’s investigator spends the next year trying (but not too hard) to get Barak on the phone. CUT!
Let’s take another look at what happened here: the MPCID interrogated an officer in November 2010 before trying to interrogate one of his men, letting a year go by without any other investigatory actions. That officer said he had eight or nine men with him. MPCID made no effort to find out who they were, nor did it try and take the testimony of other officers in his company. The MPCID’s investigator simply made a few phone calls to Barak. An entire year went by in an investigation of the death of a minor from live fire, and the MPCID did squat. This shows us how seriously it takes its role.
January 10, 2012 – Almost three years since the shooting incident, and a year after the first phone call, the MPCID manages to interrogate Barak under caution. Note that since three years have passed, and since a soldier can only be indicted one year after discharge, and since mandatory service lasts three years, the odds that MPCID has the ability to indict Barak (except under highly unusual circumstances) are rather small. Assuming Barak was a suspect, he had: a) year to get his story straight, and; b) a clear understanding he was in no real danger. Barak tells the investigators he is certain that no one fired live bullets, and that the squad he was with had only non-lethal rounds in their magazines.
March 20, 2012 – Two years after interrogating Barak, the MPCID speaks to his officer again. The latter says that since more than three years have passed, and since this wasn’t the Battle of Iwo Jima, he cannot recall which weapons were used by his men.
And frankly, I believe him. Neither would I.
April 17, 2012 – The MPCID holds what it calls “an addendum to the investigation,” which sounds like it is chasing its own tail. It’s trying to get Lt. Na’ama, an operations officer in the Yehuda Regional Brigade, to see if she can find which journalist reported that Dan’a was wounded on January 16. Na’ama cannot recall. Would you recall a phone conversation made three years earlier?
April 30, 2012 – Only two weeks later, a wonder of alacrity given its sluggishness so far, the MPCID turns to human rights organization B’Tselem and asks for the medical documents relating to Dan’a’s death. The frustrated investigator writes that B’Tselem didn’t get back to him.
As noted earlier, Dan’a’s father gave these exact documents to an investigator at the Hebron DCO on May, 18, 2009 – almost three years earlier. Either the MPCID was unaware of that or it managed to lose the documents. This, admittedly, would no longer surprise me.
That same day, the MPCID’s investigator makes two phone calls. One is to the operations officer of the 96th Battalion, asking for more details about the incident. There are no such details. The second phone call is to the Hebron DCO, trying to find out whether there were Palestinian policemen on the scene at the time of the incident, and whether they fired live bullets.
Which is interesting, since the MPCID has two testimonies of Border Police officers saying they heard live fire coming from the direction of the IDF soldiers. And since the MPCID did not investigate the 96th Battalion properly, it looks like a desperate attempt to blame someone else.
May 6, 2012 – In internal memos, the MPCID complains that it cannot find the medical documents turned over to it on May 18, 2009.
June 24, 2013 – More than a year later, and more than four years since the killing of 17-year-old Musab Badwan Ashak Dan’a, the Military Prosecution closes the case. There is no evidence, it says. Really.
To sum up: two Border Police officers said they heard live fire from the direction of the IDF force; the only IDF officer that the MPCID bothered to interrogate said there was no live fire and that there was no reason for it. And when the investigation ends, we have the body of a 17-year-old with a bullet through his head. Not the legs — the head. Remember this incident; next time, the Military Prosecution will surely tell you the IDF can investigate itself. This is what it — assuming you can call this disgrace an investigation — looks like.
The original version of this article inadvertently omitted the March 3, 2009 item in the chronology.